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Heroes report: renewable energy sector blooming in the Tough Love Garden

Totally Renewable Yackandandah has delivered measurable benefits and changes to its local community.     Image: Totally Renewable Yackandandah
Totally Renewable Yackandandah has delivered measurable benefits and changes to its local community. Image: Totally Renewable Yackandandah

A new report, Heroes building Australia’s low carbon economy by 350.org Australia celebrates the people and organisations building a clean future for Australia.

Despite a federal climate change and energy policy vacuum, dangerous misinformation about renewable energy and continued financial and regulatory support for fossil fuels, the low-carbon economy in Australia is blooming like flowers in a tough-love garden.

Industries from steelmaking and commercial food manufacturing to neighbourhoods running community projects and finance houses developing fossil-free portfolios, the uptake of renewable energy, and investment in low-carbon solutions has been steadily growing in recent years, and all without any real leadership from our federal politicians. Business, communities and individuals are taking matters into their own hands and creating a sustainable energy future.

These heroes building Australia’s low-carbon economy have been recognised in a report by 350.org Australia to celebrate and highlight the outstanding the work across the sector, the achievements by states, regions, cities, companies, investors and citizens in addressing climate change.

Most Australians are not aware of the speed at which low-carbon technology is being developed, the diversity of that technology and the geographic breadth of its take up across the country. Controlling costs and investment opportunity are driving that move, and individual leaders stepping up to shoulder the risks have been critical in allowing these projects to get up.

Many of those recognised in the report did not set out to be climate activists. Yet they have all come to the commercial business decision that using renewable energy makes economic, energy and environmental sense.

Heroes report Bronte Public School

Bronte Public School installed a 30kW solar system through Solar my School. Image courtesy Solar my School

South Australia is leading the charge to develop and deliver a wide range of renewable energy solutions including large-scale battery storage, virtual power plants, electric vehicle and hydrogen prototype technologies. The ACT and Victorian governments are also taking a lead though innovative, system-wide strategies including the use of power purchasing agreements via reverse auctions.

Big companies including BlueScope Steel, GFG Alliance, Mars and Telstra are showing that the best way to control energy prices is to source their own renewable energy. Companies including Neoen, SIMEC ZEN Energy and Tesla are providing the technology to enable them to do so. Communities from Yackandandah to Tathra and Hepburn are uniting to source their own clean energy and in the process are sending a strong market signal that old-style fossil fuel energy is no longer cost effective.

Investment funds and banks including Local Government Super, Future Super, Australian Ethical Investment, Bank Australia and NAB have shown there is a huge demand for coal and fossil-free portfolios, and they’re able to make clean profits. Australian councils have led local government authorities around the world in divesting from fossil fuels; and innovative social enterprises including Clear Sky Solar Investments are allowing renters and apartment owners to share in the renewable energy boom.

These heroes range from high profile business leaders including GFG Alliance’s Sanjeev Gupta, who has stepped in to fill the energy leadership void, to community activists like Bev Smiles who has stood up against global coal company Peabody; youth leader Anika Molesworth, RenewEconomy editor Giles Parkinson, Nicki Ison of the Community Power Agency, Simon Holmes a Court, renewable energy advocate and advisor, and NGO Solar Citizens. Great he report also names the Minerals Council of Australia and the Monash Group as the country’s biggest blockers of climate change action.

Heroes

The message in the solar panels at Tathra sewerage works is clear. image: Clean Energy for Eternity

Solar energy is now cheaper than coal in Australia. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, A$12 billion was invested in renewable energy projects in Australia in 2017 with an additional A$3.2 b invested between January and May 2018.

There is currently 6653MW of renewable energy capacity either under construction or completed and an astonishing 40,000 commercial solar systems operating nationally. Between 2016 and 2017, solar installations by businesses in Australia increased by over 60 per cent. And Australia leads the world in rooftop solar with 172,000 solar households as of 2017, 12 per cent of these with battery storage and that number is growing rapidly.

An estimated 14,820 people were employed in the renewable energy sector in Australia as of 2016/17 with 6080 jobs in large-scale renewable energy projects.

While our Federal Government lacks the leadership even to develop a cohesive climate and energy policy and actively supports the fossil fuel industry at the expense of renewable energy. The heroes of the low-carbon economy identified in this report are stepping up, taking risks and getting the job done.

Just imagine how much greater Australia’s low-carbon economy would be, and its subsequent benefits to the environment, the economy and community, if the Federal Government bothered to tend this garden with a bit of supportive care.

Blair Palese is founder and chief executive officer of  350.org Australia

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